William Heath Davis, Sr. came from a prominent New England family. His maternal grandfather, General William Heath, was the last surviving major general from the American Revolution. This is one reason that the name “Heath” figures prominently in descendant’s names, such as William Heath Davis, Jr. His paternal grandfather, Robert Davis, participated in the Boston Tea Party and was the first Davis to engage in the trading profession. William, Jr.’s brother, Robert, is named after this grandfather.
William Heath Davis’s father, known to be a heavy drinker, died the same year that his youngest son was born, 1822. In the senior Davis’s will, there is no mention of his infant son, and limited references to his eldest son, Robert, or his wife, Hannah Holmes. The senior Davis arrived in the Sandwich Islands in 1811 and lived for four months with the high priest of the Islands, Hevaheva. This would have been an introduction to him to the customs of the Islands. A year later Davis Sr. reached an agreement with King Kamehameha for the procurement of sandalwood in the king’s domain. Later the king would abrogate the agreement. The senior Davis is credited (or disparaged) for the near extinction of sandalwood trees throughout the Sandwich Islands, since this commodity was highly regarded in China and was a lucrative export for the seagoing trader Davis and the commissions received by the royal family.
In one of the properties lots which was owned by Capt. William Heath Davis, Sr., a John Crowne of Great Britain opened one of the first grog shops in Honolulu which “always had a great share of custom.” Although we do not know the precise value of the property, it was purchased in 1833 for $400. In 1841 the property sold for $3,400, reflecting an increase in land values in Honolulu.
Text from the 2009 exhibit “William Heath Davis in Hawaii”